By BROOKS TIGNER
TALLINN, Estonia – The EU’s 12-year old Security Research programme is at a turning point in its history. Not only is it reaching the end of its second seven-year cycle, but the billions it has spent on research projects since 2007 must now prove their worth.
As Matthias Reute, head of DG-HOME, the European Commission’s justice and home affairs policy department that oversees the programme, told the EU’s annual security conference here on 14-15 November: “Citizens now have a right demand a return on this investment.”
Indeed, the pressure has been building for the EU and its national governments to visibly exploit the technologies and capabilities developed by the programme’s huge diversity of security projects, most of which have sat on the shelf.
The fault lies with both government and industry due to the highly fragmented nature of Europe’s civil security sector and its mosaic of national markets. Two big policy development are now under way to address the fragmentation via the demand side.
The first will be a far stronger emphasis on defining end-user needs. Public sector practitioners (e.g., law enforcement authorities, fire-fighters and other first-responders) will not only have to deepen their participation in forthcoming security projects but also organise their collective definition of needs far more cogently than in the past. This will entail the creation of practitioner networks across Europe to exchange experience, collect ideas about capability needs and forward these to the Commission for integration onto future calls for research proposals.
Europe’s end-users are preparing for the change. “We must look ahead as police forces,” Eric Freyssinet, chief digital strategy officer with France’s national Gendarmerie. “We need to be more forward-looking about technology and to do forecasting of how criminals will exploit technology in order to counter that.”
The second, and far more ambitious, development will be the launch of a pilot project in spring 2018 to consolidate multi-nation public sector demand for large-scale security systems and capabilities.
“Industry invests where there is market opportunity but if it cannot predict whether research offers such an opportunity, it will not invest [in supply] and there will be no market uptake,” said Reute. “As a result, security research’s good result have not led to uptake, yet are followed by similar projects later on. We do not want this anymore.”
One of the ways to shape demand will be “pre-commercial procurement” (PCP) where public authorities from several member states agree on a tentative set of requirements and let a consortium of industry deliver the capability based on those requirements. Under PCP, market conditions will be temporarily suspended in order to build and test the resulting system, after which a standard emerges and future deliveries of the capability will be thrown open to the marketplace for competitive supply.
The PCP pilot will build on the results of a recently concluded EU security research project known as CLOSEYE. The latter experimented with a similar approach for the assemblage and testing of maritime surveillance technologies on behalf of the national coast guards of Italy, Portugal and Spain.
The push toward PCP will be complemented by efforts to step up the creation of EU-level technical standards. At the Commission’s insistence CEN and CENELEC, the two European standards organisations, are moving in this direction.
“The market’s traditional focus has been on safety but security is entering into the picture more and more,” Elena Santiago Cid, head CEN-CENELEC, told the conference. “We are trying to find ways to integrate standardisation earlier in security research projects to yield services and products that ca be readily deployed in the market.”
Reute added: “If we had more industrial security standards, this would provide a bedrock for how to do procurement.” One idea, he said, would be to use EU funds to ensure that the same kind of equipment is deployed in different member states, though he did not give details.
As for addressing the research-market gap, PCP and the testing of technologies won’t just be at the national level between member states either. The EU wants cities and regions to get involved in this as well.
For example, the Commission is mulling how to get more regions to collaborate across borders for the testing of innovative security solutions. The EU’s Structural Funds for regional development will be used to promote this.
There have also been discussions within DG-HOME to create opportunities in 2018 for cities to test their own security technology ideas in a risk-free environment, one whose costs might be partially covered by the Commission. This is a solid idea, and should be pursued with urgency, in our view.